ClassroomX speaker spotlight: Bo Ren on “How to build a product-driven company”
Building a startup is all about figuring out the “how”… but when it comes to building a product, it’s important to first understand the “why”!
During ClassroomX at Web Summit in Lisbon, Samsung NEXT’s head of ecosystem in NY Bo Ren will share the secret to building strong product thinking in her workshop, “How to build a product-driven company.” And even though the title starts with “how,” Bo suggests we always start with the “why” when it comes to product development.
After graduating with a degree in Behavioral Sciences from the University of Southern California, Bo veered away from law school to join a finance startup called Sunrun. Beginning as a customer service representative, Bo spent her days regularly speaking with customers as a way to understand their perspectives and pain points.
During her early days at Sunrun, Bo learned what she believes is the fundamental first step of product development — i.e. the “human problem.” According to Bo, “to understand the human problem you need to understand the underlying WHY to a business idea, product, or feature.”
These constant customer interactions soon turned into a non-linear path into product management. Nine years ago the Silicon Valley mold for a PM was either a Stanford CS degree or a MBA degree so Bo began writing about her liberal arts journey into product to empower other non-technical candidates entering the product world.
Without a CS degree, Bo pushed her way into product by first teaching herself to code and taking on technical projects at Sunrun. Following her time at Sunrun, Bo spent nine years building consumer-facing social products at companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.
While Bo is no longer an acting PM, she will always identify as a product person. Her love for product has continued to grow and evolve since her Sunrun days, but the lessons she learned speaking to customers day in and day out still lays the foundation of her product mindset.
Bo will lead a workshop taking us through the necessary steps to create a product-driven company and give tips on how to hire your first product person. She believes it’s important for founders to instill product thinking into the DNA of their startup from day one and to weave both qualitative and quantitative data into understanding the WHY.
In order to develop a product-first organization, it’s crucial for founders to be self-aware enough to understand that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and that “it’s okay to not know something and admit it.”
Regardless of the stage of your company, Bo suggests three tactical steps to foster a product-driven organization:
- Empower product owners starting from day one. A product owner does not need to be a PM — it can be anyone who identifies a product problem, rallies the organization, and drives the organization towards a solution.
- Instill data-driven practices from day one. Too often startup founders and early employees think they know what users want, but following your intuition without fact-checking the data can lead to poor product decisions.
- Take calculated risks and derive product inspiration from yourself rather than competitors. “I’ve seen so many startups have great business models but lack the risk appetite to experiment and fail fast with their products,” Bo says. She suggests not looking at the competition but searching for inspiration and innovation from within yourself and your team.
While founders at all stages can create and foster a product-driven company, the stage of your company will affect the level at which you are able to incorporate data into your business model and product mindset.
For example, pre-seed and Series A companies will need to rely more on product intuition and to guide them to product-market fit. Companies at the Series B stage, meanwhile, can usually start leveraging data to size up a problem. Finally, mature companies with 500 million DAUs will need to “science the shit out of” their decision-making because intuition no longer applies to such a large user base.
Product development and product management are all about iterating and course-correcting through time. Bo truly believes that a good product-driven founder is always on the cusp of the unknown.